21. Brother

Brother 

…the soul of Johnathan was knit to the soul of David, and Johnathan loved him as his own soul.

1 Samuel 18:1b

As soon as we exited the building, Dust and I picked apart every idiotic detail of this purposeless patrol. 

“What the hell are we supposed to do wandering around base with walkie talkies?” Dust said.

I reinforced his sentiment. “I don’t know man, seems pretty pointless to me. I guess they gotta find something for us to do while we wait for SOI.”

“Yeah sure, but this? Fuckin’ stupid!” He then started enacting a scene of a not unlikely scenario.

“‘Um, excuse me sergeant, it’s 0300 and you wreak of alcohol,” he squeaked. “‘You are not allowed piss on the chow hall.’”

He switched his voice, impersonating the rumble of a baritone, combat-hardened hulk. “‘Yeah?’” The FUCK you gonna do about it, pussy ass bitch?’ Like, seriously what the hell are we supposed to do?,” he said, barely keeping his composure between giggles, “when some drunk beastly sergeant walks towards us. Hold our ground and be like, “‘We have the authority of the sergeant of the guar-’ then he grabs the radio, snaps it into pieces with his bare hands while we piss ourselves?”

After sustained laughs persisting through and slightly after his impersonation, I managed to add my two cents. “Yeah dude,” I said, tears forming in my eyes, “That’s exactly how it would go down. I can’t think of one scenario we could possibly be useful in.”

“I know how we’re useful,” Dust said, turning his head towards me while we walked westward on Basilone road.

“How’s that?”

“The NCO’s gotta shit on someone, may as well be the dorks with bright orange vests.” We both continued rolling with laughter as we made our way towards the gym.

I warmed up to Dust over the next several rover sessions we shared. I enjoyed listening to many of his stories. He was a ladies man. As a virgin, hearing his many adventures with women thoroughly entertained me.

“Dude, get this,” he added after recounting some conquests.

“What?”

“I dated this one hot Asian chick and though I never wanted her as a long term girlfriend, I thought it would be hilarious if we got married.”

“Why’s that?”

“Her first name was Angel.” He grinned “Get it? Angel Dust!”

I laughed. Despite the sheltered little world I lived in, I’d heard of it. Though I didn’t know which one, I knew angel dust was slang for some illicit drug.

We were friends by this point, but once we discovered our favorite genre of music was techno, we became besties. Nothing could separate us. It goes without saying that shared interest bonds two individuals, but for some reason, whenever I’ve met someone who enjoys the same bands and genres as I do, there is a sense of mutual endearment that immediately follows. 

Good music always transported me to another realm. The full, immersive experience can be described as nothing short of spiritual. It’s no wonder crowds unite from all walks of life to sing the hits of their idols, a term once reserved for an object of worship. As one who never met any peers in high school with my odd tastes, I found a unique excitement never experienced before after finally meeting another human with similar interests. 

The time came for our first post on Papa 3-14. With our gear on and rifles in hand, we loaded up in the back of a humvee in the dark. As its noisy engine blared unmuffled rattles during its accelerations, the sour scent of diesel fuel filled our nostrils. I wondered how far out we’d go after the driver turned right off Basilone and we began ascending a steady incline. The cacophony of the V8 engine intensified as it struggled to propel the two-and-a-half ton vehicle uphill, maxing out at thirty miles per hour. Then lit up, fenced in ammo depot became visible shortly after turning off the paved road and circling left around a bend.

Me and Phil ready for post.

Though everyone else hated it, Dust and I loved Papa 3-14, especially in the late hours. No visitors ever dropped by after dark because shooting ranges rarely occurred at night and when they did, ammo was drawn during the day. This isolated outpost was the perfect spot for two idiots to spotlight their foolishness in the moonlit sky. We impersonated our best techno rave music by beat boxing, turning the lonely location into a raving nightclub. While still belting out throaty utterances, we attempted to moonwalk across the fenced structure, looking like inebriated fowl as we bobbed our heads like chickens, our tricolor Kevlar helmets sloshing on our heads. 

After a little while, we switched the music up from techno to rock and roll. With them slung cross our chest and their barrels pointed up our left shoulder, we disrespected our poor dates to the club, treating them as fretted instruments. We tickled their barrels up and down while flicking their upper and lower receivers with our fingers as dumb, caricatured guitar solo impressions clamored out of our mouths in an undignified manner. We were useless sentries, but at least we had fun hanging out at Club Papa. 

As we continued to share posts together, Phil and I learned more about each other’s past. I shared my history, both the warts and the highlights. Then one evening he decided to open up.

Air dampened by the cooling evening filled our lungs with the scent of Pendleton’s bushes and reeds while dry dirt scraped beneath our scuffed boots on the wooded path south of Basilone. On this quiet Rover 2 post we shared, I could tell something was on Dust’s mind.

“Hey Decoup,” he initiated, “guess what?”

“Sup Dust?”

“My original name isn’t Dust.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, It’s actually Jantz.”

Giving him a puzzled look I asked, “Seriously? Why’d your name change?”

“Jantz is my mom’s last name.”  

“So, what happened?”

“She got pregnant young, the dad I’ve never met ditched and she couldn’t take care of me on her own so my grandparents helped raise me ‘til I was four. Then my new dad came into the picture, they got married and we took his last name.”

“I see. Were things cool after that?”

“Not really, but it’s a long story.”

“We got time dude, post just started. I already shared my boring childhood, let’s chat about yours if you’re up for it.” 

“Alright, why not,” he said. “When I was seven mom and dad had my half-sister Sammy. We bounced to Texas for a few years and returned to Missouri when I was about eleven.” Dust’s demeanor shifted. “Then things got complicated.”

“Complicated?”

“Long story short, they split up shortly after we moved back.”

“Dang. So they got divorced then?”

“Yep.”

“That sucks. I guess we got something else in common. At least I was younger, so I don’t think it affected me as much as my brother.”

“Yeah man, it was rough for me. Sammy handled it better ‘cause she was super young when they split.”

“Divorce sucks.” I paused for a moment. As I gathered my thoughts, I couldn’t help but look at the sunset. The orange swirled sorbet sky mingled with darkness between the trees as we continued crunching down the dirt path. “Did your parents remarry?” I asked.

“Yeah, they both did eventually. I’m not super close with my stepmom or stepdad. I love my grandparents to death though. They always looked out for us over the years.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, remembering our first conversation, “You said you went hunting with your grandpa?”

“Yep.” He turned his head to face me as we continued walking. “Hunting, fishing, you name it. He’s one of my best friends.”

“That’s awesome. I’m cool with my grandparents on both sides.”

“Yeah they helped me keep my shit together over the years.”

“I can relate. I love my parents too, but whenever I visited my grandparents and extended family in California I always felt better.”

The conversation lulled again. By this point we curved around the bend and started East on Basilone’s southern sidewalk. The stars now assembling in the deep, listening to us bond as our footsteps now quieted on the cement.  Nearing the end of the sidewalk I asked another question.

“So what brought you into the Marine Corps?”

“During my junior year I decided to join when one of my good friends shipped off to boot camp. So I started hanging out at the recruiting station pretty much every day after work or school.  Then during my senior year I joined the delayed entry program and worked my fuckin’ ass off before shipping off in July. It all paid off though when I graduated as a squad leader and company iron man.”1

“Wow dude, that’s awesome.” We took a right turn off the sidewalk to begin our second loop on the dirt road. “You’ve come a long way.”

“Yeah man,” Dust said as we stopped at the porta Johns to take a piss. But before we did, he turned to me with words of encouragement, an unexpected observation punctuated with one final word that summarized all our the time we’d spent together. “You have too, brother.”

  1. Company iron man is the recruit with the highest physical fitness score.

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